The Sparklers are a rock 'n' roll band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The band consists of Brian McCracken (guitar, vocals), John Smith (bass, vocals), and Bob Enck (drums). They are known for their combination of whiskey-soured romantic lyrics, anthemic early indie rock sound, and raw live performances.
Formed in South Philadelphia at the turn of the century by singer/songwriter Brian McCracken, The Sparklers quickly wrote, recorded, and released their first record, "Fall Apart Heart", a loud, fast, and bitter take on matters of the heart. They played a lot of shows, drank a lot of beers, and started to think about their next record.
After years of enduring the compromises that traditional hourly studios present, they decided that their best option was to simply do it themselves. So, they sold some of their vintage gear, cashed in some old war bonds, and started to learn the ins and outs of the recording process. The learning curve was not great. But, after much trial and error, the songs started to take shape.
A vintage motorcycle garage, a plumbing supply warehouse, a row house bedroom, and the second floor of an auto body shop all served as make-shift studios and played an important role in creating the sound and feel of their new album, "Crying at the Low Bar" (Radioball Records). A song cycle about loss, losing, losering, the City of Philadelphia, and the weight of the human heart.
Although it was 10+ years in the making, Crying At The Low Bar, the second release from Philly's The Sparklers is an outstanding collection of straight-ahead rock and roll. Here's what guitarist/vocalist Brian McCracken and bassist John Smith (Smitty) had to say about the band, their history and what to expect in 2013.
MK - Can you give me a bit of a history of the band?
BMc: The Sparklers are a rock 'n' roll band from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The band consists of myself (Brian McCracken) on vocals and guitar, John Sheridan (lead guitar), John "Smitty" Smith (bass), and Bob Enck (drums). The band came together as a power trio in the summer of '99 with myself being the only original member. Around 2002 the line-up expanded when John Sheridan joined the band. About a year later we fired our original bass player and Smitty stepped in. Bob has been in the band for a little over 4 years now.
SMITTY: Brian and I worked for the same company and had played together in another band before I joined The Sparklers, so we were already familiar with each on both a musical and personal level.
MK - How do you describe The Sparklers to someone who has never heard you?
BMc: City & Eastern, or Gutter Pop.
MK - Your first CD Fall Apart Heart came out in 2001, so a lot of time transpired between the 2. How would you say Crying At The Low Bar compares to your debut?
BMc: Our first record was really a collaboration between me and the producer, Mr. Paul Smith, who had previously worked with the band Marah and Steve Earle. The band recorded the rhythm tracks live, pretty quickly, and Paul and I spent the summer crafting the final record. It's more of a loud, fast, simple rock 'n' roll record. Our new record is a more realized and, maybe, thoughtful one. Where all the songs relate to one another, instead of just a random collection of songs.
MK - I couldn't find anywhere to get Fall Apart Heart and would love to get a copy. Is it still available anywhere?
BMc: It has just been made available on our Bandcamp page.
MK - All the songwriting is credited to "Brian McCracken and The Sparklers". How does the songwriting process usually work?
BMc: I usually come up with the tune and lyrics on acoustic guitar, and then, as a band, we arrange the song with each member writing for their own instrument.
MK - I read that it took 7 years to make the record and that you went through 3 drummers. Why so long and what's the problem with drummers?
BMc: Well the short answer is in that time we decided to build our own recording studio to record ourselves. Which is just what we did. As far as drummers, we kissed a lot of frogs to find "Automatic" Bob.
MK - Your CD is available as a pay what you want download on Bandcamp. Why did you go that route?
SMITTY: We felt it was important to just get it out there for people to hear. I mean, if we were in this for the money we would have stopped a long time ago. Also, you would be surprised how many people actually pay for it.
MK - I love all of the old pictures throughout the CD booklet. Is there any story behind them?
SMITTY: The pictures featured in the book are all old photos of our individual families. When you take as long as we did to get this album out it gives you time to come up with a solid concept for the art work. Very early on Brian wanted the to use this picture of his wife from when she was a teenager for the cover and it expanded from there. I was reminded of how back in the 1950's and 60's photographs would have this thick white margin and how they would put a date stamp there. In our case we replaced the date with song titles.
MK - You also have some really cool concert posters listed on your Facebook for your shows.
SMITTY: Thanks! If there is one thing that Brian and I share, besides music, it's a love of vintage posters, advertising, and old girly magazine covers. It's definitely an aesthetic that we've carried throughout my time in the band.
MK - Since there was such a long period between CD's do you have a stockpile of unreleased songs?
BMc: We have a whole junkyard of tunes that got left by the roadside. We recorded a bunch of stuff that did not make the record but could show up somewhere in the future. We tend to have a pretty good idea if we're onto to something real, or chasing something up a blind alley. Songwriting can be pretty brutal, and if one of us isn't feeling the spook, then it's best to move on.
SMITTY: Plus, there are always scraps of songs lying around. You know, ideas that need time to gestate. Something that didn't work 3 years ago might suddenly find itself in the most unlikely place. We will revisit older unreleased tunes just to see if we missed something the first time around
MK - I read that you are working on recording some new songs. What are your plans for 2013.
BMc: The new record is about halfway written, and we're gonna shoot to have it out for the fall of 2013. That being said...
MK - Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
SMITTY: Yeah. Check us out through our website (www.thesparklers.com), Facebook page (www.facebook.com/thesparklers), and on Twitter (www.twitter.com/thesparklerspa). And most importantly, go to our Bandcamp page and give our tunes a spin. We think you'll like what you hear. Thanks!
Interview By Geoff Melton